‘Cross the Border

I’ve heard that Eskimos have fifty words for snow. I’ve also heard that they don’t. Since I have no Eskimo friends to ask about this important point, I will do what I always do and choose the statement that appeals to me the most and wait for clarification of the matter sometime in the future.

What prompted this flight of ideas was watching the frozen moisture that fell from the sky on two successive days this week. First there was Tuesday, which featured those large and very beautiful flakes that one could watch falling in slow motion for hours. A beautiful happening, the meteorological equivalent of lyric poetry. On Wednesday the snow was very small and granular, looking for all the world like someone up there was sifting white flour onto the world.

Now if my vocabulary was richer, perhaps I could have used a single word to describe what was happening each time. After all, life is indeed short, and saving a second or two here and there couldn’t be anything but good for a person, could it? Why, in the area of calisthenic exercising, for instance … five or six seconds are all I need for a typical day’s session.

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From The New Yorker

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While I’m on the subject of words and weather-related items, let me congratulate the man or woman who came up with the phrase polar vortex. It doesn’t of itself really tell you what is happening to you, but it certainly sounds like it is important. It seems to have largely replaced the cold-weather language that was used when I was growing up in the Midwest. All of those phrases back then had the word “Canadian” in them. This was a very useful practice, in that we knew both that we were going to be miserable and exactly who we had to blame for it.

Having repeatedly experienced those highly unpleasant Canadian cold fronts as a Minnesotan was certainly one of my subliminal considerations during the Viet Nam war period, when I was trying to decide whether to stay in the U.S. and be drafted or slip across the border into Canada. Suffice it to say that I ended up wearing an Air Force uniform rather than an Everest-expedition-style down parka.

I have always thought of the situation I’ve just described as Canada’s loss and America’s gain, but I am open to the interpretation that the reverse might have been considered true by the respective governments at the time.

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Hearts In Snow

Valentine’s Day was a memorable one here in Paradise. Around midnight Saturday a very light rain had turned to snow, and by six in the morning on Sunday the pure white stuff was about eight inches deep. Trees and bushes were, how to best say this … festooned. The snowfall itself was a well-mannered one, with big flakes dropping vertically, as is the proper way, I think.

This is unlike what was so often the case when I lived in the Midwest, where the flakes came at you horizontally and with intent to do bodily harm. But eight inches is eight inches, and we couldn’t count on a nice warm day to melt it all away, so out came the shovels. Robin and I cleared the snow from our own walk and driveway fairly handily. But then there was the old gentleman across the street with diabetic neuropathy whose walks I have taken on as a project this year, so I did his.

And since my next-door neighbor has been limping terribly for a month or so because of knee injuries, I helped clear the snow from his property as well. Short walk, long driveway.

By that time I had worked up quite a head of steam, and my shovel was now hot to the touch, so I looked around at the remainder of the homes in our cul de sac only to find that they had already been taken care of by their owners. Reluctantly I put away my equipment and went indoors to clean up and get dressed for the rest of the day.

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Ex-president Cluck wasn’t convicted, of course, but who thought that he would be? That would have required that the Senate Republicans were suddenly able to put country above party, and they had learned the difference between sociopathy and sanity. This was always too much to expect of them.

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From The New Yorker

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When the dream of warm Spring days was suddenly snatched from our cats by the Valentine’s Day snowfall, they went immediately into a depressive-cocoon state. Instead of sleeping 79% of the day, they went to 97%. Poco could be found snoozing behind a recliner chair and up against the baseboard heater. Willow chose a southern-facing bedroom, hopped onto the futon in there, and didn’t leave all day.

I admire their ability to simply say the hell with it and go dormant. This is unlike humans who try to pretend that there is a good side to such happenings, and try to find a way to do something on a day that really calls for doing nothing. To make the best of it is not my watchword. Any excuse for total and complete sloth is gratefully accepted.

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Nincompoopery

Robin and I went to the Friendship Hall on Wednesday morning to get our second dose of Covid vaccine. Everybody there was getting their second dose as well, and our age group was well represented. In fact, there was no one there who was not eligible for Social Security, and I suspect there were a few attendees who were actually present when the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.

So, this was a seasoned bunch, not generally given to much drama. No one jumped the line, no one indulged in Karen-istic behavior, everyone seemed grateful to be this much closer to being protected against you-know-what. In addition, there was not a single “Owee” uttered all during the time we were in the room. Those of us who were to be of The Greatest Generation tried to behave at least as well as those who were.

I have heard of seniors who have decided not to get the vaccine. To me this is almost unbelievably foolish, but since Covid is no respecter of nincompoopery, it’s all but certain that a year down the road there will be significantly fewer of them around than there are now.

Sadly, since they are well past their breeding years, these turbid-thinking persons will not be eligible for the Darwin Awards.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool through dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions.

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve been lucky here in Colorado to have a sensible man for governor, Jared Polis. From the beginning of the pandemic he has steadfastly followed the advice of knowledgeable people and helped us to avoid stepping in the stream of claptrap issuing from the White House. Each week he is on public radio for an hour bringing residents up to date on Covid and other matters. His style is not showy or self-aggrandizing, but informative.

Of course we have our non-masked brigades here in Paradise just like everywhere else, but we have been presented with rational choices if we cared to make them ours. Like I said, lucky.

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A couple of years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Murdoch’s, our local farm and home store, and found myself holding a pair of button-fly Levi’s 501’s. I was replacing them on the rack when I had the thought “Why not buy them? It’ll be fun. A direct line back into Levi’s history before those foppish zippers came along and replaced good, honest buttons.”

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Such was my internal conversation. And that misbegotten idea of getting back to those good ol’ nineteenth century days won out. I am, at heart, a romantic. It does not always work for me.

Ever since then, including yesterday, I have cursed them. It turns out that there was a very good reason that zippers took over way back in the day. They are quick and easy to use. Whenever nature called, it was a case of zip down-zip up and that was that. But with this older-fashioned item of clothing, it was now a matter of button-button-button-button-button down and then button-button-button-button-button up. Every day that I wore them, several minutes of my life flew away from me and were lost forever just unfastening and fastening the things.

So if I feel this way, why haven’t I simply washed them up and donated them to Goodwill or some such agency? This gets us to another of my characteristics. While it is undeniably true that I tend to romanticize things, it is also true that I am almost unbearably cheap. Like the character Joshua Deets in the movie Lonesome Dove, I am “not quick to give up on a garment.”

I do feel a little sorry for the the jeans. They are doomed to be worn by a man who doesn’t appreciate them until they completely fall apart. And I will always begrudge them their existence … they are so sturdy that it is entirely possible that I will be buried in them. Is that irony? I am never sure.

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Is Half A Wit Better Than No Wit At All?

Last evening Robin and I revisited an all-time favorite film of both of us. For me, it is at #2 in my lifetime ranking, with Lawrence of Arabia still at #1. What movie is that, you ask? … Stand By Me, I answer.

To me, it is just about a perfect movie. Sweet and sad and funny. A reminder of what it was like to be a twelve year old boy, that is to say, a barely civilized human being. When it was over, and the credits were rolling, it occurred to me that I had never read the source material, which is a novella by Stephen King entitled “The Body.” Hey, I can fix that, says I, and it is now my night-time reading.

Here’s the final scene from the movie. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” What a great line.

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From The New Yorker

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Wednesday morning I spent sitting in the service area of the local Subaru dealership, having a trailer hitch installed on our car. The new vehicle will tow twice as much weight as our old one (and I’m not quite sure why there is such a difference). But one thing that we use the hitch for the most often is to carry a rack for our bikes. We’ve been fans of the platform-type racks for a couple of decades now. Their big advantage for us is that lifting the bikes onto the device is easier. And you can haul basically any bike with these things, no matter what it’s crossbar looks like. Or even if it doesn’t have a crossbar at all.

The only problem with them is that they are among the more expensive racks. More hardware and more engineering equals more expensive. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.

What I keep looking for is a rack and car combination that no matter where I go, my bicycling journey is always downhill, and the car is waiting for me at the bottom.

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The Republicans continue to surprise and entertain me with their seemingly unquenchable appetite for featherheadedness and self-destruction. There is no blather too ridiculous and no position too mean-spirited for them. The crazier the better seems to be the hallmark of today’s GOP.

At present the party is having a lot of trouble distinguishing between Abraham Lincoln and someone like Marjorie Greene (photo at left) as a person to admire and emulate. I would put my money on Greene, if I were a betting person. She’s the farthest away from thoughtful of any member of the present Republican class of half-wits. Which makes her practically a shoo-in.

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Up To Our Ears In Those Accursed Interesting Times

Tuesday was a day of light snowfalls. Stop … start … stop … start … all day long. It made our mid-day walk special, with those big near-weightless flakes caught up in the rabbitbrush and sagebrush along the way. And the colder air had a snap to it we hadn’t seen much of so far this season. The snow did make it harder to find safe footing, though, covering completely those little patches of ice on the path that were each one of them small threats to a pain-free life. A minefield of sorts for the more fragile of our citizens.

There were very few people in the park that day, and except for Robin and me, each person was connected to at least one dog. Coloradans hate being outdoors without a canine companion. One such person had a pitbull on a leash whose face was awfully fierce-looking, and he pulled the dog several yards off the trail as we passed him. He must have noticed the worried faces of others before us who upon seeing the animal noticed how much of themselves was within easy reach of those teeth.

Whenever I look into a doggy face like that I think back to the movie Stand By Me, and the scene with the junkyard dog, Chopper. The reality is not always as nasty as the mythology would suggest.

The truth is, I have never been bitten by a large dog, while my ankles bear the memory of multiple attacks by the sort of fluffy small creatures where you can’t tell which end is which. Dogs of the dust-mop variety.

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Robin and I watched a movie the other night, White Tiger, that was disturbing in many ways. It was a film made in India that dealt with class dynamics involving servants and masters in that country. I won’t go into the plot more than that, as I have no wish to insert spoilers. But on two occasions the main character made the point that the era of the white man was over, and the era of the brown and yellow man was upon us and would soon make Europeans irrelevant.

Caucasians have held sway in so much of the world for so long … when I think about pushing for an end to all the forms of racism, in my own mind the new society that would come from that is always a more benign one, with everyone truly on an equal footing. A brave new world of mutual respect, a band of brothers and sisters once and for all. Waaaayyy too many expectations, I know.

It is possible, though, that we could shoot right past that to a new reality where we simply trade colors, but keep the engines of oppressor and oppressed intact, but now with whites on the bottom. That would be a bad thing for all concerned. No one ultimately ‘wins’ in a master/slave relationship. It poisons the souls on both sides.

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One of the ways Mr. Biden cannot please all. At present there are not enough doses of Covid vaccine to treat all Americans that want one. People are complaining: Get us our shots! The lackluster distribution network that he inherited is trying to come up to speed, with spotty success.

At the same time those who take a broader look see that the wealthier nations are buying up the available vaccine supplies at a rate that would make it difficult for poorer nations to find any even if money was not an issue. Money, of course, is an issue. So the cry goes up that once again the poor suffer while the rich nations have the best seat at the table. Ethics and morality and a pandemic and politics and production limitations … what a fervent stew this is! No matter which way Biden looks there’s someone with an angry face and a brick in their hand.

Beyond this set of facts is that world economies, including our own, are tottering along on a duct-taped crutch and looking for at least a sturdy walker to steady themselves. If those economies should fail, who suffers most? The poor nations again.

Perhaps one spin would be that it’s like the situation in an airplane cabin where when the oxygen masks drop down, we are told to put the mask on our own faces first so that we are then capable of helping others. I freely admit that I don’t know the answer. But no worries, friends, because I’m not the president. (If I were to wake up tomorrow and find through some horrible mischance that I was, I would resign before my feet hit the bedroom floor.)

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Have you watched the series Peaky Blinders, on Netflix? We’ve finished the available five seasons, and await release of what promises to be the last one. We found that it drew us in very early on. Basically it’s a gangster story, but it is told so very well and photographed soooo beautifully. The ratings posted before each episode warn us that we might see nudity, gore, and smoking. As things move along we see a little of the first item, a good deal of the second, and the only way we could see more smoking was if the characters put cigarettes in their mouths, noses, and ears all at the same time. It was apparently a tobacconist’s paradise in Birmingham of the 1920s.

And, finally, Peaky Blinders just looks amazing. Beautiful production design can only carry something so far if the storytelling and filmmaking lag, but any lulls in the course of Peaky Blinders are more than accounted for by just getting to look at how wonderfully the series has resurrected Birmingham in the 1920s. Images like a woman walking away from the camera, snow drifting around her, or Tommy riding cockily through town atop his horse give the series a slightly ethereal feeling that makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a particularly involving dream. It’s hypnotic.

Vox.com

Although the Reilly family are criminals, and might have been no matter what their prior history was, there is a strong thread running through the series about what serving in World War I did to the men. A very believable and powerful thread.

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You know, I wasn’t going to put in this photo from the New York Times “Styles” section this week. But then I thought … what the hell?

I sometimes make fun of the pretentiousness of the world of fashion, and the often outlandish creations that make the news. But this look … I could really get behind this one. And I think that I could carry it off really well.

It’s basically a red-orange hoodie that doesn’t know when to quit, isn’t it? It might be a one size fits all sort of garment, it’s hard to tell exactly. And there would be no worries about inseam lengths here because there isn’t one. Also, the quilted material would be great for packing around furniture on your next transcontinental move.

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I don’t think I would keep the huge lapel rose, though. It’s a bit over the top for me. But the hat! It’s a direct throwback to headgear of The Flying Nun, from 1960s television.

Makes me feel guilty for all the bad things I’ve said and thought about the fashion industry in the past. These are serious people.

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Gastronomic Dispatch

Maybe pizza news is nothing to some people, and if that’s true, I feel sorry for them. Because of all the foods that are nourishing to the soul, pizza easily tops the list. That first bite after the pie reaches your table which is always too hot because you couldn’t wait and the molten cheese bonds permanently to your now wounded mouth and doubles down on the burn … aaahhhhhhh, sweet mystery of life, I’ve found thee!

So what’s the news? Well, Pizza Hut is going to start serving up Detroit-style pizzas, and they are making a huge deal about it.

The chain is launching a new Detroit-style pizza, which ditches the traditional round shape for a rectangular crust with cheese to the edges that’s popular in the Michigan city.

CNN.com Business, 1/26/21.

Ho Hum, we residents of Paradise can say to this bit of marketing. It’s not that this isn’t a truly delicious and appropriately greasy entry into the pizza races, but we’ve had it all along out here at the Brown Dog restaurant in Telluride. And I know that residents of my old stomping grounds in Yankton SD will take serious umbrage at this heresy, but the Brown Dog has replaced Charlie’s as selling the best pizzas in Christendom, IMHO.

[May I be struck dead by lightning if this isn’t so. Perhaps that’s a bit strong … how about … may I develop serious heartburn if I’m not telling you true.]

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Looks like another impeachment trial is coming up in February. Even though old what’s his name is no longer POTUS, it seems that calling on a mob to storm the gates of government is just not done, and there is a need to teach a lesson here. Not so much for our former Supreme Leader (why can’t I remember his name … ?), because the man seems incapable of learning, but for the rest of us.

I know that I can certainly use the reminder. There have been so many times in my life when I wanted to roll open the sunroof, stand up and stick my head out to yell out A Bas Les Batards!* but it was the fear of being pelted by rotten fruit that held me back. If the weather warms up a bit, I might just head out for Washington DC during the trial with a bushel of mushy apples in the back of the Forester just in case I get a clear opening. I need to get pretty close, my throwing arm isn’t the deadly catapult it once was .

*Down With The Bastards

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From The New Yorker

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Hail To The Chief … And To Us

Wednesday’s inaugural ceremonies were everything that we could have wanted. Inspiring, straightforward, respectful, historic, and normal. There was not a single psychopath anywhere that I could recognize. Everyone who came to the mike spoke of love of country and of their fellow man. Lady Gaga walked to the podium and gave us one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner I’ve ever heard. A slender girl wearing a coat the color of sunflowers read us a stirring poem that she’d composed for the event. Mr. Biden gave a speech that will be remembered for its nearly perfect application to the day and to our times.

And over and over I thought – good on us. We made this happen.

One thing – he promised to always level with us, and I believed him. I think that we are fortunate enough to have the kind of commander who will wait to see that his men are fed before sitting down to supper himself.

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I finally got that flag put up that we’ve been meaning to install for months. Most of the stars and stripes on display here in Paradise are around the beds of pickup trucks, and flown by local yahoos. We’ve decided that they don’t get to have the flag all to themselves. Lefties get it, too.

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I read yesterday that the QAnon people are in disarray. Their Fearless Leader has gone away without arresting even one pedophilic cannibal from Hollywood and bringing him or her to trial. Something’s wrong with their world, and they haven’t figured out what it is as yet.

Sufferin’ Succotash! What a pleasure to finally walk away from an arena where one group is loonier than the next. I suspect that the Qs will be like one of those Christmas lawn display animals that are held up by air pressure from a compressor. Turn off the electricity and they collapse on the dead grass.

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I loved that a poet of only 22 years of age was selected to read her work at the inaugural. I loved that there was a poetic reading at all, because that is not a given. This has happened only five times before in our long history. And her performance, for that is what Amanda Gorman gives when she reads, with lovely and expressive movements of her hands and arms, demanded your attention. Here is the text of her work, “The Hill We Climb.”

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Amen, Sister Gorman, you tell it as it is.

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Break A Leg, America!

There’s a new drama opening both on and off Broadway, simultaneously. It takes place on one of those stages where the audience becomes a part of the action, so we should give thought to getting ourselves ready to leave our comfort zone on occasion … those moments when the actors come over and sit in our laps.

The play is called Republic, and the cast is still being assembled, even as the doors to the theater open later this morning. Better get ready, child, this show is coming to your town and here are some of the players.

Silver Linings

Robin and I consider ourselves among the lucky ones, riding out the pandemic here on the Western Slope of Colorado. We, like so many others, have given up socializing, mingling with friends, and the simple pleasure of just going out for an evening. Robin has had her church involvement and contact with fellow parishioners severely cut back, and it has mostly consisted of Zoom meetings. It’s an arid environment for people who are nourished by the company of other human beings.

But we have been able to double down on our time in the outdoors, and Colorado has a lot of that to offer. It’s only minutes away to walks along the beautiful little Uncompahgre River, an hour away to hiking in the San Juan Mountains or on the Grand Mesa. Spectacular Black Canyon National Park is a twenty-minute drive from our home. Forty minutes from us are Dominguez and Escalante Canyons, where the red desert begins.

There are camping opportunities in every direction. And although these places are more in demand now, we’ve been able to go pretty much where we want so far without being crowded out.

So don’t cry for us, Argentina, we’re doing fine. And while the location of the exact end to all of this coronavirus horsedoodle is not yet clear, our confidence that there will be an end has been increased by the prospect of putting real people in charge in just a few days. Perhaps we can go out to a movie (if there is still a theater to go to) this Fall, without considering it a potential descent into viral hell.

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Ohhhhhhhh man, do I look forward to a post-cluck universe. Tomorrow we move on. At least, most of us will, and for those who don’t? I’ll try to live up to this famous admonition: Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is the most amazing person in many ways, and one of those is her networking with family. Nearly every week she will talk with her kids, the grandchildren on that side of the family, and a slew of others. And many of these calls last close to an hour. And then she joins me on those rare calls that I make to my own children.

I have watched this behavior week after week for more than 25 years, and she flaggeth never in her self-assigned duties.

Part of my amazement is the fact that I can’t talk on the telephone for more than three minutes without wondering how to diplomatically end the conversation. No matter how much I love the person on the other end of the call. It’s just that unsatisfying for me. To really enjoy talking to someone, I need to see their face and watch what their hands are doing. Anything else is at best a halfway measure.

This is off-putting to people who enjoy telephoning, and they find me boorish or rude (which I suppose I am) in this regard. I sometimes lamely try to explain how I feel, but … . If any of you have been on the other end of the line in one of my trademark abbreviated calls, think about this. The last time we were together in the same room, wasn’t there at least one moment when you wished that – dear God – would I please shut up? Of course there was.

Think about this when we next speak on the phone:

Hi, how ya doing?
Are you both well?

That’s good, what’s the weather doing there?
……….
……….

……….
I think there’s someone at the front door, and they appear to be on fire. Gotta go. Talk to ya later. Bye.

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On May 4, 1970 which was … like … only a month ago, there was an antiwar demonstration on the campus of Kent State University, in Ohio. National Guardsmen were there to maintain order, and suddenly shots rang out and four students were dead and nine were wounded. The photograph below was a very well-known one at the time. It was everywhere.

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, Kent, Ohio on May 4, 1970. National Guardsmen had fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing four.

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The above photo of the young man waving the flag was also published widely, and the student doing the waving was a man named Alan Canfora, who died this week. When those shots were fired, he was wounded.

That event was a major milestone in the movement against the war in Viet Nam. It even had its own song, Ohio, written by Neil Young.

Graham Nash vividly recounted the circumstances surrounding the creation of “Ohio.” David Crosby, his band mate in CSNY, excitedly called Nash and made an urgent request, which stunned Nash at the time: “Book the (recording) studio right now!” Nash recalled Crosby telling him. “I’m coming down tomorrow. Wait until you hear this song!”
Crosby had shown Young the famous photo of a young woman named Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over a fallen student named Jeffrey Miller during Vietnam War protests on the campus of Kent State University. Miller had been killed by a bullet fired by a member of the Ohio National Guard and the photo ran on the cover of Life magazine. Young saw the picture, and as Crosby told Nash, “I saw Neil walk off with his guitar into the woods. And he comes back an hour later with this song.”

Jon Friedman, Esquire Magazine, June 2020

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Ahhhnold Speaks

There is a particularly beautiful place not twenty miles from our home at Basecamp. To get there you drive east on Highway 50 until you reach a dot on the map named Cimarron. Today there is a small convenience store/gas station and very little else in the townlet of Cimarron. But at some time in the past someone’s larger dream died there, because just a bit further on is the husk of a large and completely abandoned service station/motel/restaurant complex. It’s obviously been closed down for years and years, but one eerie light still burns in the restaurant dining room, day and night.

Now you turn left and go two miles down a paved two-lane road that follows the Cimarron River through a cleft in the mountains until you reach the confluence of that stream with the Gunnison River. The road ends there in a parking lot. A short walk down a path puts a person on the Gunnison, where some other dreamers go to fish for trout. In summertime, it looks like this:

One of those starry-eyed people, yours truly, went there on Tuesday afternoon intending to do just that. Unfortunately when we reached the parking lot the air temperature in that canyon was 14 degrees (it had been 37 degrees in Montrose). So we exited our car, walked fifty yards, admired the lovely river, got right back in the car, and drove off. At 14 degrees your fly line ices up in a very short time, and becomes entirely unworkable. So does your typical fisherman.

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From The New Yorker

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Once I became aware of this video message, there was no question in my mind that I would link to it. It’s like someone took many of my own scrambled thoughts and put them together into a thoughtful and coherent presentation. How amazing it is to me that the person who did this is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He and I have few similarities. He is from Austria and I am not. He was Mr. Universe and I wasn’t. He had an affair with his housekeeper and I didn’t. He is a large, muscular guy … I could go on but I think I’ve made my point.

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It seems years since Election Day, doesn’t it? So much ugliness since then, and we still have just under a week to go until Joe Biden is sworn in as President. The right-wingers who start each day with a big bowl of conspiracy flakes for breakfast are apparently threatening to bring their camo clothing, their costumery, their Confederate battle flags, and their weaponry to capitols across the U.S. to make their point. Or to continue their attempts at a coup … I don’t know which is their aim.

What interesting times we are living in. After watching videos of those idiots on January 6 on their well-armed rampage, isn’t it pretty obvious that we need to take a long hard look at that 2nd amendment? There is no excuse for carrying guns into political rallies, other than attempted intimidation. Even back in the Wild West days they collected firearms when you entered the towns and returned them to you when you left. And these firearms today are in the hands of people shouting nonsense at the top of their lungs and spritzing spittle all over those nearest them while doing so. People you wouldn’t trust to borrow your lawn mower.

My hope is that we can pool the precious and obviously finite amount of common sense still remaining here in the land of the free, and turn our faces towards justice and compassion next week. Government by mob certainly stinks.

You know, life out there is such an inchoate mess right now … I’d like to return to the good old days, when the only one screwing up my life was me.

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From The New Yorker

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A couple of weeks ago Robin and I applied online for the Covid vaccine, and Tuesday night around 8:00 PM we both received an email message telling us that we could get our shots on Thursday morning. Other things on our calendars were quickly rearranged, as we practiced rolling up our sleeves and trying not to say “Owie.” One more step toward normalcy and one step away from chaos.

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I have administered a double dose of cartoons today. I thought the times called for twice the lightening up.

I also include a soup recipe taken from the pages of the New York Times. This is not something that I do lightly, because my bona fides in the world of cooking are too easily challenged. But this one was so good that Robin and I had it for both lunch and supper yesterday.

Of course, coming from the Times, this is a liberal soup, so those of you whose politics bear more to the right might want to watch your intake and consume no more than a single bowlful in a 24 hour period.

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No Complaints. No, Really.

We’ve been in a meteorologic twilight zone for several weeks now. Not cold enough to really expect that people will sympathize with us if we should complain, and not warm enough to elevate our moods from the Basic Winter setting (and that setting is only two millimeters above mild depression). When Robin and I go for outdoor aerobic walking we are still picking our way past icy patches no matter where we go.

[n.b.: senior citizens hate icy patches. Wherever these are to be found, in a senior’s mind all such hazards bear the symbol at left imprinted upon them. They speak of pain and trips to emergency rooms and x-rays and hospitals and traction apparati and casts and funerals.]

One of those walks of ours takes us past a pasture where about thirty horses are kept, and have been all winter. Yesterday the temperature rose to the point where it thawed two months worth of their droppings all at once. The resulting perfume was a heady one indeed. At first it pleasantly reminded me of boyhood days on my grandfather’s farm, but then it intensified to the point that survival became an issue, and we nearly ran until we were clear of the invisible but highly aromatic cloud.

Just past the toxic zone Robin spied a bald eagle high in a nearby tree. Its white head shone brilliantly in the winter sunshine. While seeing an eagle near the river is not a rarity, they never fail to impress. I don’t really care that some of their eating behaviors might not always be noble and inspiring – a bald eagle is still a grand symbol for a proud nation. Now if we could just get back on the path to fully becoming that nation, that would even be more grand.

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Pressure is being applied to Mike Pence to use the 25th amendment to remove p.cluck from office. Having not been asked to make any decisions at all for four years, he is having trouble imagining getting anything done in the few days he has left in office. He can’t do it by himself, of course, he needs seven cabinet members to go along with him. Think about that for a moment. Getting seven members of the most dysfunctional cabinet in modern times to do something that while it might be good for their country, is potentially bad for them.

I don’t believe I’ll hold my breath.

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Went down to the river on Sunday, not to pray but to fish. I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong because I caught another one. It could be that by some mischance I chose the right fly for the time and place. The part of the Uncompahgre River that I was wading around in was lovely, and the waterway was all mine, at least as far as humans were concerned. My only companions were small birds.

The only imperfection, really, was the footing. Walking on cobblestones in the water is awkward, especially when the stones are the size of grapefruit. And while the river posed no threat to life, running at the low flow levels typical of a mid-winter day, the prospect of falling down and filling my waders with near-freezing water was one that I have resolved to avoid at all costs.

I could only stay out for a couple of hours because as the afternoon began to cool there was ice forming along my fly line, and by then my fingers had lost the ability to tie a knot in anything smaller than a hawser.

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Just to get out in front of the critics, I am going to admit that not everything is perfect here in Paradise. For instance, in this past election Coloradans chose to send Lauren Boebert to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her opponent in that contest had been an intelligent, experienced, and thoughtful woman who would have brought some serious skills to Congress.

Instead, we elected Boebert, and I must now cringe whenever her name comes up on a television screen, wondering what inanity she might be involved in now. But why should I natter further? Here she is. Our very own entry into the one-trick-pony sweepstakes.

(Rep. Boebert is the one in the middle, pointing her weapon at the floor of her restaurant in Rifle, CO. Perhaps to shoot at a cockroach, who knows?)

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Fleurs du Mal

Here is how the Covid vaccine process is shaking out in Greater Paradise (otherwise known as the state of Colorado). Phase Ia vaccinations are underway, and Phase Ib will be upon us when … well, we don’t exactly know. What is happening is that people in Phase Ib are asked to sign up to establish themselves as part of the group (we did ours online), and then one day we will receive some sort of notification as to when and where we can be vaccinated.

Robin and I are in group Ib by virtue of age, as you can see in the diagram below.

After reading about the mentally unstable Wisconsin pharmacist who deliberately left 500 doses of the vaccine out to spoil, and someone else’s idea that to make the supplies go further we reduce the amount of vaccine given, I am not quite sure what to expect. It could conceivably go like this:

Policeman: Awright, keep the line straight, you guys, stay on the north side of the rope. And stop moving about back there.
Vaccinee: But it’s cold out here, good lord, the wind chill is zero degrees.
Policeman: You don’t like it, Mr. TenderBody, well, you can just go home if you want to.
Vaccinee: Naw, naw, never mind, I’m stayin’.
Policeman: Here’s the nurse now.
Nurse: Would everyone from the man with the lavender beret to the woman with the decorative layer of cowpoop on her boots take one step forward. Okay, now roll up your sleeves, if you will. Well now, sir, let’s just draw up your medicine.
Vaccinee: Is it supposed to be green?
Nurse: The color is immaterial, good sir, just relax and all this will soon be over.
Vaccinee: What’s that funny odor?
Nurse: I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary.
Vaccinee: It’s coming from the green stuff.
Nurse: Sir, could you please stop with the comments? You are making the people in line behind you nervous.
Vaccinee: I think I’d like to go home and think about it.
Nurse: Too late for that. We have quotas to fill, you know. Barney and Vito, will you grab him?
Vaccinee: But I don’t want the shot any more.
Nurse: Is that all this is about? Don’t worry, sir, all you have to do is sniff the vial. There will be no injection at all.
Vaccinee: Sniff it? Does that work?
Nurse: Not quite sure, but we’re all learning together, aren’t we? Now if you’ll just let me wipe off your nose with this alcohol swab …

(Just to be clear, when my dose becomes available, no matter what its physical characteristics may be, I’m taking it. Enough, already!)

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On Monday morning there was an earthquake in Tyndall SD, which is about twenty-eight miles from our former place of residence in Yankton. It was only 3.1 on the Richter scale, but already the insurance claims are coming in, claiming substantial damages. Earl Putz says that fifty-two of his prize-winning steers fell into a huge crack that opened up and then closed again. Mabel Pergola says that her mental health has been permanently altered by the event, and that aftershocks are occurring on the hour in the middle of her abdomen, one centimeter to the left of the navel.

Ms. Pergola is also claiming loss of consortium with her husband, Elbert. When our reporter asked how she could ever have noticed this, since the earthquake had occurred only two hours prior to this conversation, her reply was: “You don’t know Elbert.”

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I will mention the events of Wednesday only briefly. They are at the point of being dissected minutely, and we may all be feeling even more ill by the time this process is over. Or we may feel exultation.

The first is the riots, encouraged by P.Cluck himself and his Republican enablers. A merry band of traitors they are, and they deserve anything unpleasant that may happen to them in the days to come. At supper last evening the title of a book of poetry by Baudelaire came to mind. It was Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil). Cluck and the boys have been planting the seeds of those flowers all along, and you know what – I told me so. The part of my brain that never sleeps, that keeps me breathing and my internal organs churning away, knew that this moment was coming. Even while the part that reads and writes and signs checks said: “No, not even they would go that far.” I will have to give my gut more credit and listen to it more carefully in the future.

The second is the Democratic wins in Georgia. It makes it possible to finally get past the McConnell roadblock that has held America back for so many years. Imagine how long it might have taken to achieve something as straightforward and necessary as the assembling of a cabinet by Mr. Biden, had this not happened. Bless everyone who had a hand in these victories, because they were victories for us all.

It is sunrise in America, mes amis. What kind of day will it be?

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There’s A Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

Let’s do this. Let’s get rid of the electoral college once and for all. Let’s shrink the time between the election and the swearing-in of the new President. Let’s make sure we write down the names of everyone who has supported this Frankenstein of a POTUS. We don’t want to forget even one of them. Let’s remember the names of that handful of Republicans who have spoken up along the way and been driven out or into silence by the jeers and threats of today’s modern equivalent of Italy’s good ol’ Black Shirts. They were the good ol’ thugs of their time, waving flags while running around and clubbing people who disagreed with them.

Italian blackshirts, circa 1920

Let’s get a copy of the Constitution and read it, along with its amendments, to embed into our hearts those words that help us all to remain safe. That should keep us busy for at least a couple of days, and it’s something constructive to do during the Great National Confinement , otherwise known as the coronavirus pandemic.

[It might help to remember that the Constitution was not created as the rules for a club consisting entirely of thoughtful gentlepersons. It was designed to help keep a bunch of unruly and often unsavory bastards from killing one another. Ir provided the set of generally agreed-upon rules which enable us to live together as Americans and that is no small thing.]

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I have reached that point in the year when I have the conversation with myself that goes something like this: I am now officially tired of winter and would like it to go away, please. A month of it is really long enough to learn all that one needs to learn about self-discipline, tolerance for meteorologic adversity, and fortifying one’s soul by inserting enforced self-denial into spaces that used to contain pleasures.

Yep, a month of it would really be enough. After all, that would be 8.33333333% of the year. Do we really need more?

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday the temperature soared to 43 degrees here in Paradise, so of course I went fishing. I rounded up the necessaries and trucked myself down the hill to the Uncompahgre River. I was dressed in more layers than I needed, expecting to feel chilled walking around in that icy water. But I didn’t, not at all. It was an altogether excellent couple of hours that I passed, flailing the bejabbers out of the poor fly I’d selected.

With my Tenkara equipment I found out two things right away. When you are a beginner, and the rod is twelve feet long, it is very easy to hit things overhead, like trees and bushes. It is also quite easy to hit one’s target in the stream, as long as the target is at least six feet in diameter.

The sun was shining and the water was clear and fast. A group of four mallard ducks was dabbling away just twenty yards from me, apparently not too concerned about the clumsy beast upstream with the stick in his hand.

I was far from alone out there, I counted three other men who were similarly engaged on that stretch of the river. I also counted the number of fish that the four of us hauled in, cumulatively. None. But the number of contented faces was the true measure of the day. And there were four of those.

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For those of you who fish, the Davy knot may be a new one for you, as it was for me. I can attest that it holds very well, and is as easy to tie as any of them. I like the lack of bulk in the finished knot, which should be helpful in other types of fishing as well when deception is especially important.

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This gallery may be of no interest to any but my kids, but here are a few scenes from a trip to Cape Hatteras, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which took place in 1972.

It’s The Myth That Matters

Ok, time for truth-telling. I am totally a Christmas guy. On the outside I’m slightly Bah Humbug, but on the inside I am a gooey tower of sentimentality and memories which reach back before the last ice age. I love the lights, the trees, the carols, the Silver Bells sort of feeling I get when shopping on Main Street in a light snowfall.

A sucker for Yuletide. C’est moi.

A couple of random recollections:

The Christmas Eve two families slept on the Jacobson farm in Grandpa and Grandma’s very small home. I would have been about 4 or 5 years old. Every flat space had a body sleeping on it after gifts had been exchanged and we all bedded down. My brother and I had each been gifted with lambswool slippers a few hours earlier. The floor was filled with dormant bodies. I awoke with the need to use the bathroom. In grandpa’s house the toilet facilities were either the pail under the bed on the second floor bedroom or the out-of-doors. It was cold out there. I was awfully young. I couldn’t face the weather and having to step across all those people on the floor so I did the next best thing (in my mind) and used my brother’s furry slipper. He discovered it right away in the morning, of course, when he found himself sloshing around the farmhouse.

( There is a version of this story where I am the victim instead of the perp. Truthfully, it was so long ago that I don’t know which is the more accurate, but myths will endure)

*

I was seventeen and had been nominated to make the trip to buy the Christmas tree, on a Saturday night when I had a date and my mind was completely elsewhere. I bought one and brought it home, then left to pursue my romantic ambitions. When I got back around midnight, I found that a tree had indeed been put up and decorated, but not the one I had purchased. When shown the one I’d selected earlier … a sorrier tree there never was.

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Monday the first doses of Covid vaccine were administered in the US. We’ll be hearing a lot about the ups and downs of the various vaccination programs around the country for a while. We’re a big country, and there’s room for endless variations on the story. It’s huge news, of course, and coming just when a wave of illnesses is still rising up ahead of us like a virologic tsunami – well, let’s just say we needed a morale boost.

I don’t know if President Cluck will ever realize what an opportunity he missed to go down with some measure of greatness attached to his legacy. He seems to be lacking in a lot of normal human reactions and emotions. But if he’d empathized with us instead of lied continuously, if he’d taken rather than opposed the common-sense measures that needed to be adopted, if he’d ever said to us: “This is something extraordinary, folks, it’s way out of politicians’ areas of expertise but we’ve got some of the best minds on the planet working on the problem and you can count on my administration to follow their suggestions.”

If he’d done these things, maybe he still would have lost the election, but how many fewer empty chairs at family tables would there have been this Christmas? I might even feel a bit sorry for him. But he has richly earned every gram of ignominy that will be forever attached to his name.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song  written by the lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent and recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song. Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.
The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him, and requests snow, mistletoe, and presents on the tree. The song ends on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”.

Wikipedia

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I’ve read quite a lot about becoming a senior citizen, in order to prepare myself for some future date when that title applies to me. And one of the things that those geezers seem to have trouble with is balance. As a result they fall down way more than it good for them. Things get broken. Sometimes they stay that way.

This article by Jane Brody in the Times of New York is one that I will add to my files labeled: What I Might Need To Know When I Become An Old Person. It’s all about postural training as a way to stay afoot. Good reading.

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Oxymoron Department

The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. One that I think appropriate as a monument to a person who does not read.

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Ending on a sweet note. A certain person living in this household follows the evolution of the Oreo Cookie very closely. For myself, I was never able to figure out how these new flavors came and went, nor was I motivated to investigate. This morning that information fell into my lap and I pass it along to you. The answer to the question: why is the Oreo not always the Oreo you knew.

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The Wishy-washy Need Not Apply

Monday morning I was peacefully reading the Times of New York when I came across an article that mentioned the Democratic Socialists of America. I don’t really know much about those folks and therefore I spent a couple of hours wandering through the website of the organization , and it was interesting.

They are serious people, passionate people, and … well, I’ll let you read a paragraph from their Constitution to get the flavor of what they are about.

Article II. Purpose.

We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.

Constitution, dsusa.org

I won’t claim to have read everything on the site, but what I did go through left me feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t join up, that a group of 70,000 such firebrands weren’t out looking to recruit wishy-washy octogenarians like myself as members (I could be wrong in this). While I agreed with a great many of the points they made, there was a doctrinaire flavor about their prose that reminded me of … Strelnikov.

You remember Strelnikov, don’t you? He was a character in the film Dr. Zhivago who was a true believer. Now, he was also a Communist, not a Socialist, and I do recognize that they are very different entities, so using him as my illustrative example is unfair from the get-go. But that flavor …

But hey, let me introduce (or re-introduce) you to Commander Strelnikov, who I found to be one of the most fascinating characters in a movie filled with them. Here he is in his office in a train car, interviewing Zhivago, a person who his soldiers have just arrested.

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I know that I have talked previously about the book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was a longshoreman who had an amazingly fertile brain and a keen eye for the quaint habits and delusions of human beings. It was published in 1951 and was one of those you have to read this sort of books in that decade, especially for college types who were practicing their intellectual pretensions, as was I.

It’s a book that may help explain Cluck’s populism to those who are still puzzled as to the why? of the past several years. True Believers are not troubled by inconvenient opposing facts, they just run right over them as fables of the other side.

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For a piece of good old-fashioned far-left-wing music, I offer you The Internationale for your listening pleasure. It is played here by ani di franco. Don’t worry about being corrupted by it, it is an instrumental. As to the words, well, it depends on which translation you are following. There is a long article on the song, in Wikipedia, that makes for very interesting reading.

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Monday morning I went back for my last checkup following cataract surgery. You could tell how pleased the clinic staff and the surgeon were that I got such a superb operative result, so I’m glad that I kept the appointment, if only for their sake. I will still need glasses, and still do not have Superman’s X-ray vision, so at this point in life I think that I’ll finally give up on that particular fantasy. It was a much more intriguing concept to a young man … these days I really don’t care to see my friends without their clothes, nor do they, I suspect, have any hankering to see me au naturel.

I may have mentioned that the eye surgeon, whose name is Bennett Oberg, looks to be about twenty years old. He is tall, good-looking, slender, youthful … let me just say that you would have no trouble telling the two of us apart. In fact, he appears to be so young that as I was leaving I leaned over toward him and said in a conspiratorial voice: “Just between the two of us, Oberg, you’re not really a doctor at all, are you?

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You may have noticed in the weather box in the sidebar that some of the outposts of the Empire are becoming quite chilly. This morning, for instance, the Evelethians will be getting dressed while huddled around the woodstove, in their six degree air.

Of course, such an experience can be oddly pleasant, except for the person who has to get out of bed first, to stoke the fire in the stove. To all such stokers in the world, we offer a hearty thank you.

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Encore, Mr. Cohen?

After writing and publishing a paragraph or two on Saturday about Leonard Cohen’s last album, I ran across this video which is a short movie. It’s of a little more than nine minutes duration, and is about how the music came to be recorded. It is a lovely little thing in its own right.

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We are coming to the end of four years of a political administration that has been a disaster. It will still gasp and wheeze for another couple of months, and wreak the kind of harm that a gushing firehose can do if you drop it, whipping its head back and forth willy-nilly and threatening everything in its vicinity.

But on January 20 we move into some other gear. We don’t know what it will be, not exactly, but the first set of appointments that Mr. Biden has proposed have been both reassuring and worrisome at the same time. They are capable and tested people who will probably not make some of the blunders of the Cluck years. They are smarter than that.

The worry comes from the fact that so far they are all members of the club. Comedian George Carlin used to say in his act that America was not a free country at all, but fully owned and controlled by those who wielded corporate wealth and power. He would admonish his audiences with the phrase: “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it!” Perhaps I wouldn’t mind being controlled by these folks (I might not even notice … I’m not the most perceptive person on the planet) if the world were going along really swell. But it’s not.

So we should all pay close attention to Mr. Biden, to his appointees, and to how they conduct themselves in the months to come. We should not just hope for better things from his administration, we should demand them.

Take nothing for granted.

Question everything.

Mottoes for a troubled time.

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Gratitude List

I have had a pretty lucky life, with a dash of adversity tossed in now and again to keep me on my toes. There was enough of that particular seasoning along the way to teach me that there was knowledge to be gained during those harder times that I might otherwise not have acquired.

For what I learned during those trials, I am now grateful (although I fully admit that I wasn’t when I was in the middle of them).

The last four years, seeing my idea of what America was being disassembled one piece at a time was so disheartening … but what a lot I learned about the workings of government and about my countrymen. Some of that knowledge I would rather not have, but my takeaway is I will never again take for granted that what I love about this country couldn’t be lost if we are not vigilant.

I am grateful for the several people who last October 3 took a confused and speechless older gentleman (yes, that’s me … please let’s not quibble about the gentleman part) and did all the right things so quickly that a frightening situation was turned around in something only slightly longer than a moment. In fact, if they hadn’t done exactly what they did, it’s likely that if I were typing at all today it would be gibberish. (A different sort of gibberish than what I put out there day by day. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes).

I am grateful that there may soon be an end to this long and difficult struggle with Covid-19. I recognize that it has been much more difficult for millions upon millions of others than for me personally, but being in a higher risk group does tend to make one suspicious and antisocial. Neither are pleasant states to be in.

I am grateful for family, for friendships, for music, and to whoever invented love.

Amen.

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P.S.: I am also grateful for mysteries, and this is a dandy.

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Here’s a personal gallery of things and places. I hope that you have a beautiful day, wherever and with whomever.

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

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About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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Dumb and Dumber

My old home state of South Dakota is making the wrong sort of headlines these days. For those who aren’t familiar with prairie politics, it is basically a state run by Republicans. This hasn’t always been a bad thing, but perhaps the fact that the political gene pool is such a small one is catching up with them, because during the time I lived there each year watching the legislature perform was increasingly like viewing reruns of Dumb and Dumber.

Unfortunately the decline in the IQ of the leadership seems to have continued since I left the state nearly seven years ago. And now South Dakotans are suffering because of it. Literally, suffering. Governor Kristi Noem can now take credit for leading the state into some of the worst Covid-19 numbers in the country. However, the abysmal statistics have not caused her to waver in her anti-scientific-knowledge crusade even as the death toll mounts.

Wear a mask? You can if you want to, you silly person, but thank God that here in SD we still have our freedoms, and this means we are free to spew deadly germs into the faces of our fellow citizens if we so choose. (I have freely paraphrased the governor’s public pronouncements, here)

Of course, she couldn’t do all this harm by herself. Just like her hero, P.Cluck, she is enabled by the Republican majority in her state with its willingness to belly up to the bar and pass the Kool-Aid around. And the voters, don’t forget the voters.

The word “stunning” has been used so much this past year that I hesitate to employ it yet one more time, but what this nurse in the video below has to say pretty much qualifies as an example. Her stories of patients who had so completely bought into Cluckist rhetoric that they believed that Covid was a hoax, a liberal straw-man, not a serious issue, on its way out, etc. etc. So much so that when they were told that it was killing them they refused to accept their diagnosis. How could they be dying of a hoax?

It’s stunning, is what it is. Lordy.

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From The New Yorker

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I actually fixed something yesterday. The tempered glass protective cover on the face of Robin’s iPhone had been damaged, leaving criss-crossing cracks to look at instead of that much preferred smooth surface. When I called the Verizon store where we had purchased the phone they told me the cost of repair would be $50.00.

For removing the damaged piece of glass and replacing it with a beautiful new one. Fifty bucks.

Well, my strong cheap streak went into high gear right away, so I began looking into doing it myself, and found a whole world of how-to-do-it videos on YouTube. I also found that if I were willing to do just the teensiest bit of work, that the cost would be around $14.00 for not one, but three new pieces of tempered glass, one to use as the repair and two to put away for another day.

So Mr. Clumsyhands went to work and mirabile dictu, I did it in about five minutes total time. Piece of cake. No problemo. Easy as pie.

Now just where is that bomb you wanted disarmed? I’ll be right over.

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It is definitely soup season here at BaseCamp. One of the great things about the colder weather is that bringing out the kettle and heating up the kitchen as broth and vegetables and herbs do their excellent thing together is actually enjoyable.

We have a number of old stalwarts that we first make each year, and then we begin to try new recipes. Our most recent addition to the library was made of a mixture of white beans and squash. Really, it is awfully tasty, and it freezes well.

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Good Morning, Starshine

Help! I’m being buried in a tsunami of wistfulness and I am not a strong swimmer! And it all started with an obituary in the Times of New York about an actress and singer named Lynn Kellogg.

Kellogg came into prominence as a performer in the musical Hair, which was definitely a “thing” when it appeared in 1968 on Broadway. Although Hair was an ensemble work, her songs were among the most memorable, at least for me. Listening to them this morning … all I can say is that it would have been better to take that trip in small doses rather than one big gulp.

By the time the music from Hair had drifted from Broadway all the way out to the Minnesota prairie it was 1969, which was kind of a big year for yours truly. It was the year that I participated in my last anti-war march in Minneapolis that year, accompanied by a pregnant wife, pushing a baby in a stroller, and trying to keep two pre-schoolers from wandering off and into trouble.

My son Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency, June 30. In mid-July I was inducted into the US Air Force, and later moved my family to Bellevue NE, which would be our home for the next two years. And although I never saw the stage musical, the music from Hair was playing in the background for these events and pretty much all others during that year.

So over on the right are some of Kellogg’s songs, and in the video here is the cast singing “Let the Sunshine In.” Lynn is the blonde woman who begins the number.

Unfortunately Lynn Kellogg died of Covid-19 this past week, at the age of 77 years. Who knows if hers, and how many of the other 247,000 Covid deaths have been unnecessary, and for which we have P.Cluck and his minions to thank?

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Of course, reminiscing is tempting for a lot of people, not just we dotards. Here is an article from CBS Sunday Morning on the 50th anniversary of Hair, along with another video clip which was taken from the Tony Awards show in 1969.

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Our lovely fall weather continues here in Paradise. Geese are beginning to gather on the local ponds, but so far I’ve seen none of those majestic vees passing overhead while pointed south. Their watchword must be why should we leave when we have it so good where we are, I guess?

Thanksgiving is now just 9 days away, but we are not panicked. We’re having it at our home this year, and are making plans for a crowd of two. It makes it so easy to pick just the right sized turkey, so today I am going to the deli and getting “one pound of that torn-apart and then glued-back-together sliced turkey, if you please.” It doesn’t require roasting at all, and if one wants to serve it warm, why, a few seconds in the microwave and you’re good to go. We do love our mashed potatoes, so I will purchase a single Yukon Gold, which should suffice. For stuffing, how about Stove Top mix, where you can measure out exactly what you want?

We will, however, not skimp on pie. We may make two of them, because why not? And we’ll have at least two full cans of Reddi-Wip ready to blast away, maybe more.

(All of the above is facetious, except for the observations on pie. While we will scale back a bit from previous years, there is no reason to let coronavirus spoil all of the fun, is there?)

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Mental Lint

This latest chapter in the nationally televised serial The Cluckshow is surprising even the gaggle of old hands who gather ’round the woodstove of a chilly morning. Yesterday the group, which hardly ever agrees on anything, unanimously came to the conclusion that there are a significant number of Americans who are perfectly daft.

No matter how many sober people come up to the mike and say that the election process wasn’t corrupted these misguided ones continue to believe the opposite and that somehow their champion will pull off a miracle.

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It doesn’t help that they are supported in their delusions by some very corrupt people indeed, people like Senator Turtle, who stand to gain by keeping governmental matters in a continual state of chaos. So much of the public chatter is how Cluck disrespects our traditions and the nation’s best interests (and he does) but Cluck suffers from serious mental disturbances. This gets him exactly one smidgeon of sympathy. Sen. Turtle does the same thing but is completely venal, which qualifies him for no smidgeon at all.

So the members of the hot stove club went home yesterday wondering how things ever got so bad that we all agreed on something. It was unsettling, to say the least.

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A gallery of images of Senator Turtle

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Yesterday as I was listening to NPR I found that I had moved even further down the list of People Who Will Get The COVID Vaccine First. When this all started I felt confident that my age and many infirmities would put me right up there after emergency room physicians. But as each new draft proposal comes out my number gets further from being called.

So after spending some idle moments reflecting, I have voluntarily assigned myself to a new place in that therapeutic line. I plan on waiting until I see that all serial killers in solitary confinement in maximum security institutions have been protected, and then I will step forward. I believe that in this way I can avoid most disappointments.

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Willie and the Boys

On Sunday afternoon, having a few moments that were free of responsibility for the world’s turning, the sun rising and setting, the perfection of mankind and the like, I created a Willie Nelson radio station on Pandora. And then I sat back in a recliner and listened for an hour. Migod, what an hour that was. One great song after another, including duets with other legends of country music, spanning decades of songs that I had heard over basically my entire adult life. Mr. Nelson is 87 now, still putting out new music, and would undoubtedly be still touring if it weren’t for Covid-19.

Now, from time to time I describe myself as a “class act,” and I do so knowing that you folks know better and won’t be led astray by such a tremendous fib. But as a performer, Willie … he is the very definition of a class act.

Robin and I caught a concert of his down in Grand Island, Nebraska a year or two before we moved out here to Paradise. It was Nelson and one other musician playing steady on for 90 minutes. The time flew by and our lives were at least two notches richer for having been there and seeing him in person. I really started being a solid fan of his when the album Red Headed Stranger came out, around 1975. And the song from the album that hooked me (and never let go) was Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.

Being 87 means that he is a Grand Senior Citizen of country music, but to read the interview in the New Yorker you wouldn’t know it. If humility means you know very clearly that the planet and stars don’t come and go for you alone but for everyone, Willie Nelson is a humble man indeed.

Here he is in a video of Eddie Vedder’s beautiful song, Just Breathe, with his son. That boy Lukas, if he don’t sound like his daddy I don’t know what.

Now, seriously, how many country artists do you know who describe being heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt, the great Belgian jazz guitarist from the 30s and 40s? I can’t think of one other. Mr. Nelson is a man of many parts.

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A light snow on the backyard deck this morning, just enough for Poco to make tracks in when he stepped out to check the weather. Our predicted winter storm never materialized here in Montrose, we only had a sniff of it when the wind kicked up on Saturday for a couple of hours. But it soon settled down and the sun came back and that was that. It seems to be a common pattern, where weather systems head for us and then split just before they reach our little town, with the rains or the snows falling both north and south of the city.

I’m actually okay with that, especially in the winter months. If I have to get in the car and drive for half an hour to find snow deep enough to XC ski, why, that’s just about perfect. It’s called the “having one’s cake and eating it, too” type of winter.

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There have been rumors that P.Cluck might fire Dr. Fauci, who persists in his apostasy by telling the truth about our pandemic. If that should happen, and I were Joe Biden, I might step right up to a nearby mike and say: “Don’t worry ’bout it, Tony, you get your job back on January 20.”

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I read the article on companies incorporating insect proteins into dry pet food to Poco, who was initially incensed. I tried to explain that it had already been going on for years, but only very small manufacturers had been involved. The news now was that it was Purina who was trying it out. And Purina is a big guy on the street when it comes to pet food.

I also asked him if he could claim that in his entire life he hadn’t already chewed down a bug or two. At that he looked a bit sheepish and muttered “Well … .” Once past that hump I could take time to present the rationale, which included a better use of the planet’s resources and that there was much less impact on the climate as well.

He conceded all of these points, then countered with “Alright, I get it. I am willing to do my part. And when it comes available at the market I will happily eat my black-fly-larva kibble if you do the same. Because I happen to know that there are insect-based food products out there on shelves for humans as well.”

I just hate it that the cats have learned to read. They’ve been nothing but trouble ever since they started.

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And finally, this photo has nothing to do with anything I have said before. But it is an amazing picture. Everyone in it is reacting in some way to that ball that’s on its way. Reminds me of those old Norman Rockwell magazine covers.

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Can I Have A Hallelujah, Brothers & Sisters!

Our national Disgrace-in-Chief is being shown the door, at long last. This time he lost the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Of course he’ll still be in the White House for another couple of months, but in January he will walk that last long stretch to the podium and be forced to turn the keys over to rational and compassionate beings. And our nation can get on with all of the important work that was put on hold for the past four years while Nero fiddled.

We are rejoicing here in Paradise, or at least a minority of us are doing so. Montrose County went for Cluck more than 2:1 over Mr. Biden. How sweet is is to see those wilted campaign signs out there, those pickups still festooned with gigantic but impotent flags promoting the loser-guy. Out of consideration for those of our benighted neighbors who are Cluckians, we have now taken our own signs off the lawn. But I have a confession to make. What I really want to do is find the biggest freaking Biden/Harris banner available and put it up like a Buddhist prayer flag, where it stays for years as the sun and weather slowly break it down.

However, that would be shabby behavior, wouldn’t it? Gloating. And I am totally a class act.

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But, Dr. Frankenstein, what if you are successful? What if this … thing … does come to life? What will happen then?

Following the principle that everything in life has two sides, two faces, we now have some hints that the crazy interesting laboratory tool called Crispr-cas9 might not be an exception. After one paper after another over the past several years about the positive potential for an instrument that can go into a genome and replace defective genetic material with a previously unheard-of surgical precision, we get a paper that has an un-smiley-face sticker on it.

When researchers began applying Crispr-cas9 techniques to embryos those embryos did not appear to take it kindly, tossing out large chunks of the chromosomal material in soberingly large numbers. A commentary on this paper was in the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It adds to an ongoing discussion of the ethical implications of working with embryos versus completed human beings.

For example, If I am born and I have a genetic disease, replacing the bad part of my genes affects only me. But if you tinker with those genes much earlier in development and I grow up to beget children, my children are potentially affected, and their posterity as well.

Interesting paper.

In general, the body public has a say in what research will or will not be done through our elected representatives. Funding can be advanced or withdrawn. Regulations can be drawn up or not. Sometimes just because you can doesn’t mean that you should is a useful watchword in scientific communities. But whether we do have a stake in this research, and articles like this one help us stay informed.

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Friday evening we welcomed a whole lot of very nice people to our home for a celebration of Robin’s birthday via the Zoom app. For a short two hours friends and relatives entered and left the group and I thought it all went very smoothly. Grandson Ethan brought along a bunch of custom backgrounds for his image that went from the pastoral to the macabre and back again.

By the time the group was assembled, we had participants in all four time zones across the U.S. You know, it was definitely not the same as all of us being in the room together, physically. But when you consider that in-person was impossible, it is hard to call a video conference second-best. What it turned out to be was a creation all its own, made possible by technology, which resulted in a very enjoyable evening. I’m liking it.

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I am indebted to Sister Caroline for sending me this video link. It’s a rousing Sunday morning piece of music cleverly updated. Have a great day, my friends.

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Broke

You have broken my heart, America. Oh, it’s not the first time it’s been broken, not by a long shot, I keep putting that hapless organ out there to be driven over, shot at, left behind … . It’s my own damned fault and I really should know better by now. The problem is that this has been my longest running love affair, going back as far as my memory can reach. I fell even before I knew that there was such a thing as a country.

The soundtrack to that affair was tunes like America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee, This Land Is Your Land, God Bless America, and the like. Songs to stir the blood, to make a child stand taller and straighter at his desk in school.

I didn’t lose faith even when I realized that you had serious flaws, cracks in that beauty revealed by the lynchings, the racism, the wars … the obvious fact that your bounty wasn’t spread around evenly at all.

But this time you broke it. That so many of us could vote for someone so very bad. A Mussolini for our time.

My heart will heal, it always has. But after each fracture and repair, it was not the same as it was before the hurt came along. Sometimes it became a better heart … bigger, more accepting, more capable of love than ever … and that is what I can hope for now. For today, though, all that I want to do is to go somewhere and have a cry.

It will not be the last time that I have been a fool for love, I know. Time has proven that to be my curse and my blessing all at once. But I know that I am not unique in this … maybe some of you are similarly afflicted. I offer a well-distanced and weepy hug if you are.

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Stephen Colbert suited up and showed up and said it much better than I can, in the first 16 minutes of Thursday’s show.

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Listen Up

There was a wonderful article about Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in the Times of New York on Wednesday. It’s a longish piece so I won’t go into it much here, but these are two people devoted to their music and the human stories they have to tell.

These are not shiny, bling-y people. To me what they do transcends genres, and actually forces me to sit up straight in my chair and pay attention. No background sonic pap is to be found in their discography.

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Back when movie theaters were a recreational choice, if I was unlucky enough to see one of those mile-high plates of yellow goo and corn chips that were called “nachos” being purchased at the refreshment counter, my gorge would instantly rise.

Because I have tasted that golden mess and declared it “not food” in my mind. But at the same time I have repeatedly wondered if there was something called nachos out there that were actually worth eating, perhaps the food that they were before the waves of queso started flowing.

So when I ran across this story of the origins of nachos I found it very interesting and personally reassuring. These present-day piles of corn chips n’glue started out life as something made of honest-to-god ingredients. Even better, the article goes into the origins of the snack’s name.

Even more better, there is a recipe so that we can make our own honest version, just like Ignacio did back in the day.

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There are times when I sense that I am a terrible disappointment to my cats. This morning, for instance. Poco was following me around, meowing periodically. I had fed him, the litterbox was clean, the pet door was open to a beautiful November day, and we had already spent some early-morning quality time together. And yet at one point he stopped still in his tracks and his expression said so clearly: You have failed me. I give up.

Moments later, as I was sitting by the dining room table, Willow leapt onto the table (which she never does and knows that she is forbidden to do) and walked straight at me. With her face now only inches away from mine, I could see that she had the same querulous and disappointed look about her. “Can I ever trust you again?”, it said.

So I turned to the pair and declared: “You know, there are times when you two are no bargain, either.” We left it at that.

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The Chicks have a new album out, their first in 14 years. I’ve like them for a long time, smart and skilled musicians that they are. This time there is a cut that I find very moving, and it’s called March March. I present here the official video for the song, and also a version they did on Stephen Colbert’s late night program. I find that both are affecting, but in slightly different ways.

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As I write this, on an early Thursday morning, the national election is still undecided, although Mr. Biden leads in those anachronistic electoral votes. Best we be done with them and at long last use a system that requires no explanation. Obviously I have hopes that P.Cluck is eventually fired as president, and that he finally has the time to get the mental health counseling that he so evidently needs. Maybe there is a family plan where the entire unsavory family gaggle could be therapped grouply.

But I will stop here, because it isn’t over yet … and there is many a slip …

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So far our November here in Paradise has been outstanding. Sunshine in great abundance, with chilly nights and warm days. Much of the color has been drained from the landscape, leaving behind a palette of grays and browns. Robin and I have resumed our regular walks and roamings, and we are not alone out on those pathways.

Even after being out here for several years, I am still struck by the number of dogs that Coloradans own. I like dogs, really I do, but it is necessary for there to be 3.7 canines per person? And could we get a doggy diaper law, please? Because the honor system of picking up after one’s pup is definitely not working.

On the walking trail out in back of our home, we get to watch the passing parade every day, and it is obvious that the older a citizen gets, the smaller the pooch they own. There are no seniors with mastiffs, Great Danes, or pit bulls. Instead they parade around with a bewildering number of mutant and diminutive breeds I never heard of. What on earth is going on with all of these cocka-whatevers? Dogs that closely resemble the ends of dustmops, where the only way you can tell which end is which is to look for the eyes?

Yesterday on our river-walk we encountered a dog, at least that’s what I think it was, which was clearly assembled out of the spare-dog-parts bin. It was the size of a beagle, with legs like a bulldog, a face like a boxer, and ears like a jackass. I honestly have no idea what it was or what you would call it. Or why you would call it.

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Halloween De-briefing

Last Halloween we had … I don’t know, perhaps 40 trick-or-treaters at our door. This year we had one. One hardy soul who received way more candy than she had ever hoped for and staggered away under her sugar load. Unless her parents step in and limit her intake, she could end up in the ER with severe sucrose poisoning. Not our problem. We did our part to sabotage her proper nutritional habits.

After we decided that one visitor was all we were going to get this year, we settled in to watch our annual blast from the past, and we’d selected the movie Poltergeist, from 1982. It held up pretty well. One of the problems with re-watching a film from 38 years ago is that you are 38 years older and may have developed more of an awareness of holes in the plot that you would have back then. This family was waaaay not worried enough about things moving about the house in the first place, and waaaaay too slow to get the hell out of there when things turned nasty.

But it provided the spooky movie ambiance that we were looking for that night, and that’s all a persons can ask, really. I learned an interesting sidelight when I looked for info on the film this week, and that was this. The movie basically dealt with the problems of the Freeling family, which consisted of Mom, Dad, and two girls. The actress who played the older daughter was strangled by her boyfriend the same year the film was released, and the one who played the younger daughter died six years later (at age 12) of a bowel obstruction.

That’s sort of macabre all by itself.

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Tomorrow is Election Day. With the pre-election hype predicting everything from minor disturbances to outright civil insurrection as the results become known, one can hope that this is all overheated rhetoric. As happened in the year 2000, when we were told to fear that all of our computers were going to crash along with Western Civilization, as a result. Remember Y2K?

While there seems to be a significant concentration of crazies on the P.Cluck side of the ledger, not all of those who vote for him are completely nuts. Deluded for sure, suckers to the max, but not people who are violent in nature. We can hope that they will be the leavening if Biden/Harris are declared the eventual victors.

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All Hallows Eve

Today is Halloween and I’m not ready for it. Not in any way. Some cherubs will show up this afternoon with their bags open looking for us to drop safe treats into. In our part of town all of the costumed kiddos are quite young, so their raids occur in the afternoon and once the sun goes down everything is quiet.

When they do show up I will take my masked self to the door and hand them something with either a gloved hand or a thoroughly sanitized one. It’s like the trick-or-treating is happening on an infectious disease ward, where we are the patient in isolation and the staff parade through our sickroom looking for sterile handouts.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Halloween could be setting something up frightening outside the door. A disembodied voice moaning and chains rattling from a hidden speaker, perhaps. Or a scarecrow that comes to life and reaches out a bony finger to tap the child on the shoulder. But, it’s daylight! Nothing is scary in daylight! And even if I could pull it off, these are really young kids and who wants to send them screaming into their parents’ arms and then have to face those same parents’ anger at their darling ones being scarred for life by my insensitivity?

So it’s bite the bullet and pass out the packages of Skittles for me. Later, when we are safe from further visits, Robin and I will watch our carefully selected Frightening Film of the Year. We haven’t chosen one yet, but there are so many classics to pick from, aren’t there? Let’s see … Halloween … The Exorcist … Poltergeist … The Shining … Haunting of Hill House … Dracula … etc. etc. It’s one of the great things about the streaming movie era we are presently living in. Most of these will be available somewhere, even if there’s a small fee to pay. And we can watch them whenever we want, pause them whenever nature makes demands on bladders, and replay passages where we find the dialog hard to understand.

Life is techno-good.

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BTW, I should mention that I am a sort of Halloween version of Scrooge. Dressing up and masking has always seemed a silly business to me. By careful planning and artful refusals throughout my life I have avoided all but one of the costume parties that I was invited to attend. And that one only confirmed me in my apostasy.

It could be because on the other 364 days of the year I am already continuously playing roles, and don’t feel further need to play-act at a new one just because demons are up and about. What roles, you ask? Well, how about conscientious citizen, son, father, student, physician, etc. Perhaps is is enough to say that however I may appear to others (and to myself?), I suspect that there is a full-fledged Dr. Hyde running around in my internal community and looking for a way out. I have no wish to encourage him, not in the slightest.

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Here is a sampling of how movies and television have seen Mr. Hyde throughout the years.

For most people, when their Mr. Hyde comes out, he looks a good deal more ordinary than this. In fact, it’s often hard to tell by appearances when he’s in the room.

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Yesterday P.Cluck took on the medical professions as eager to profit from the suffering brought on by Covid-19. It was only a matter of time before he got to them/us. Now, not every doctor in the U.S. has had to sacrifice because of this disease. My ophthalmologist, for instance, does everything he can to avoid being exposed to the infected. As does my neurologist. Even my family doctor makes me wait in the hallway until I answer a few questions and then have my temperature taken. Only then can I enter the waiting room. If I don’t pass her quiz, it’s go home and we’ll call you.

But if I were one of those, like ER physicians, who cannot avoid working with the afflicted, I would be so pissed off reading today’s headlines. Because they are taken from a speech delivered by a man who cannot understand people who would take such risks because it that is what they do. Because that is what they signed up for. And the unworthy things that he is saying are not only undeserved but will make their job harder.

Whatta guy. His spot in Hell is prepped and ready.

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Now here is something that for me is as Halloween-y as it gets. Gave me nightmares when I was a child … doesn’t get any better than that.

Mental Goulash

We finished up the limited series The Queen’s Gambit last night. Thoroughly enjoyed every one of the seven episodes. The writers gave the main character some choice lines. Like these two:

Do you always drink this much?
No … sometimes I drink more.

It’s one of those moments where you come to the last minutes of the series and want there to be more episodes but at the same time realize that the creators of the series did it just right, that this is where it should end.

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A long time ago I decided that I should learn to play chess. At the time I didn’t personally know anyone who played, so I turned to books with titles like Chess for Beginners. (Chess for Dummies hadn’t been invented yet, so I made do with what I had). Basically I learned how the pieces move, but when it came to strategy it all seemed hopeless. The authors of the book would describe in detail how if I did this move and then that then checkmate would happen six moves ahead.

The problem was that I couldn’t see it. I never reached a stage where such far-looking (and beyond) was possible. One move ahead was it for me. If the woman in the TV series Queen’s Gambit was the Einstein of the game, I was at whatever the opposite pole would be called. (The Dimwit of Chess?).

I eventually tried to play a few games against actual human beings but all of them ended the same way, my trouncing in less than twenty moves. So I gave it up, having diagnosed myself as having a Chess Learning Deficiency and going on to other things less painful than those repeated drubbings. It wasn’t being beaten so much as it was the not being able to learn from the defeats that finally got to me.

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Speaking of not learning anything from experience, P.Cluck is the poster boy when it comes to this particular malady. As we close in on a quarter of a million dead in America due to Covid-19, he complains that if we didn’t do so many of those darn tests we wouldn’t have so darn many cases.

Of course if we followed his instruction, the published Covid numbers would be better but the corpses would still be piling up at exactly the same rate. Such is our leadership. Lord help us.

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Ahhhhh, the internet has come under attack because we have discovered that it is just as easy to spread mooseberries as it is knowledge using this medium. Why this is a surprise? Didn’t we already know this from written literature going back hundreds of years? With a good printing press you could put out a cookbook or you could print Mein Kampf. The press itself was neutral, it didn’t care how it was used.

Mr. Zuckerberg tries to sell us the idea that Facebook is completely neutral, that posting is neither bad nor good, and that the right stuff will always rise to the top, like cream in a bottle of milk. Maybe if he were dealing with rational creatures, instead of our awkward species, that would be the case. Maybe.

So Congress, that bastion of rationality, is now investigating Facebook, Google, and Apple. Looking to see how much influence this tech triad really has and how much we can mess with the First Amendment before it cracks under the strain. Right now, Facebook is jam-packed with people shouting FIRE in the proverbial crowded theater. So what do you and I do while we wait for Congress to save us?

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Always good to finish on a high note. The Times of New York mentioned this guy and this video, and I am passing it along. I just love pretending to be cultured and au courant, don’t you?

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

All of us who love movies, we who have been lucky enough to sit in darkened theaters of an evening and were changed by what we saw, can draw up a list of those films that were transformative for us. In my own case, these were films that went beyond being entertaining and taught me something powerful through the artistry of the army of people who contribute their talents to such an enterprise. One of those was Judgement at Nuremberg, which was released in 1961.

The other day I learned a new number, and it was 545. This is the number of children who were separated from their parents by immigration personnel and who have still not been reunited with their parents. As Stephen Colbert said it in the clip I posted on Thursday: “Cruelty was the plan.” It is a shameful number and the size of that number stands out. But the shame and the unnecessary suffering began with the first child who was treated in this way. With the first family that was deliberately divided by policies of our own government.

It called to mind a scene from the movie I mentioned above. Spencer Tracy plays an American judge at the Nuremberg Trials. Burt Lancaster plays a German judge, a man who in his official capacity went along with some of the Nazi injustices. Who believed that by going along over here you could prevent greater harm over there. When I first saw this scene I was stunned, and left the theater not ready to talk about it until I had some time to process what had been presented to me.

It changed the way the 22 year-old man that I was looked at life. As it turned out, that change was permanent. So much for a simple night out at the movies, eh?

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The above is an example of the randomness of how we learn and what we learn. Perhaps I should use a different pronoun, to stop using the “we” and substitute the “I,” but I suspect that many of you might have found it to be true in your own lives as well. A small part of my moral education was acquired in churches and during talks with my parents, but the greatest part of it was from movies, books, and the slogans I read on T-shirts in the Sixties.

My world view was pieced together like a tuna casserole from the ingredients at hand and baked at idiosyncratic temperatures. The result is me. A hodgepodge of ideas and prejudices and pronouncements, both good and bad, that embedded themselves into that pudding I carry around atop my neck. Did I set out to learn about personal responsibility when I bought the ticket to “Nuremberg?” Nope. Was I seeking a lesson on the fragility of life and the importance of childhood relationships as I watched the opening credits roll on Stand By Me? Not on your life. Did I have any idea when I picked up Kazantzakis’ novel Freedom or Death that it would color my landscapes from then on? No way.

In fact, if I had suspected that any of these things were going to happen, I might well have avoided all of these works, and looked harder for something completely mindless. Mindless has always been my default position.

So what lesson? What goes in through our eyes and ears may take root in our brains, whether that’s what we intended or not. That old aphorism in the computing world of Garbage In – Garbage Out! holds as true for people as well as for machines.

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My old home state of South Dakota is out there in front of the pack with regard to new cases of coronavirus. For this you can give Governor Cluckette a lot of the credit. Even as the groans of infected people keeling over on the streets of the capital city of Pierre are keeping folks awake at night, she still insists that all citizens need to do is wash their hands and remember to floss.

She relays the Cluckian message of no-mask to her underlings, and when anyone says “Cluck” to a Republican, as we have abundantly observed, it cancels out normal brain activity and that person will now accept any old basket of horse-apples as a tasty dessert.

I do feel sorry for the innocents in that excellent state, those being the Democrats and Independents who have very little to say in its governance. I also feel sorry for any sensible South Dakota child over the age of eight years, who can look at what is happening and easily see that their lives and fortunes are in the hands of fools.

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When was the last time you worried about polio? Did you ever? The first form of the vaccine came out in 1955, and the oral form in 1962. So if you were a toddler during that period of history or later, you grew up without ever hearing it discussed at the dinner table, nor would your parents have ever had to tell you that there was no more going to the swimming pool at the park this summer. The polio boogey-man had vanished from the Western Hemisphere.

He was on the brink of disappearing from the entire world more than 15 years ago, and would have been but for fears raised by anti-vaccine hysteria in Africa and Asia. Just yesterday an article on CNN brought up the concern that with our focus on Covid we stand to let polio back into the Americas because of declining immunization rates. The wild form of the virus is still out there, and the only thing standing between us and its recurrence is our vigilance.

Yes, dear friends, when it comes to infectious diseases we have to be able to chew gum and walk. Just because we are hunkered down in our homes this year because of Covid worries doesn’t mean that we can ignore our other problems. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we do have people we can turn to for advice and help … they are called ID (Infectious Disease) experts and they use something called science as a powerful tool against such potential plagues.

All we have to do is let them do their job and help them where we can.

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